The ‘Avengers 2’ Negotiations Sound Like Hollywood ‘Hunger Games’

Credit: Ray Tamarra/Getty Images

You’d think most actors would at the chance to even get a part in an epic comic book film, but things might be different for the upcoming Avengers sequel. According to a new report, negotiations for the film are turning into a Hollywood-style Hunger Games. And, man, it seems like a real challenge to get the odds to be ever in your favor.

A recent report from the folks over at Deadline portray the ongoing negotiations between Marvel Studios and its actors to be fraught with tension over the reprising thespians’ worth versus company secrecy and parsimonious behavior in the name of profits. Naturally, skepticism about the lack of transparency is troubling for many, as Marvel is owned by the publicly traded Walt Disney Company, meaning its books are up for the scrutiny of the masses. See why the Internet likes public knowledge so much? Internet loves scrutiny.

It all begins with Robert Downey, Jr, as most interesting things do. RDJ has been playing the media circuit game of late in order to promote his latest work with the renowned comic book house, Iron Man 3. The film has already made him $35 million in its first 12 days out; a number that will only continue to rise and may bring Downey his biggest cinematic payday yet. Now that its contract renegotiation time, though, Downey’s been hinting that retirement might be on the horizon for Tony Stark unless Marvel comes back with some enticing numbers. In Hollywood, getting money is a complicated tango to say the least. But Downey is reportedly not just dancing for himself, but for all of his Avengers costars.

Deadline purports that Marvel and Disney have yet to finalize several cast members’ salaries (which includes, for some: upfront pay, backend compensation, break even and box office bonuses) — including lynchpin Downey. Considering the impressiveness of the cast roster (Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, and Samuel L. Jackson), such a feat sounds majorly costly. No doubt causing Headache City, population: Bob Iger. The Walt Disney Company’s Chairman and CEO has been obsessive in his push for Avengers 2 for at least a year, so it seems logical that the company will want to tie these loose ends up sooner rather than later.

Ultimately, it sounds like the biggest hurdle to jump has an almost philosophical quality to it: when it comes to epic, franchise films such as Avengers and its spawn, how much are the actors who portray these superheros worth? Marvel claimed its break-even number was astronomically high ($1.1 billion, globally) for Avengers, a point that Deadline questions with a quote from a rep to Marvel executives Kevin Feige and Louis Esposito, stating “If Avengers wasn’t profitable until then, why would you make it?” Certainly a question worth asking, especially in today’s marketplace.

One response is: well, these movies make money. And not just Monopoly money: real, serious business money. In the first three days alone, Iron Man 3 made $195.3 million, doing the seemingly impossible by beating out The Avengers’ $185.1 million global opening weekend take last year.

But still, The Avengers was a film where some of the main actors reportedly received relative pennies (about $200,000) compared to Downey’s $50 million. Hemsworth was allegedly low-balled with a $1 million pay-out (pending the acheivement of a $500 million box office break-point) even though he’d previously received $5 million for his work in Snow White and The Huntsman. But is the opportunity that being in a Marvel universe production worth the pay cut? Downey doesn’t seem to think so. From the report:

“He’s the only guy with real power in this situation. And balls of steel, too. He’s already sent a message that he’s not going to work for a place where they treat his colleagues like s**t,” one source explains. Another rep tells me, “I have four words for Marvel – ‘F**k you, call Robert.'” As Downey himself has said publicly about his $50M-plus payday, “I’m what’s known as a strategic cost,” adding that Marvel is “so pissed” he earned that much.”

So is Marvel doing these actors a favor, being stingy with their profits, or simply operating a business in a fiscally conservative but lucrative manner? The seeming disregard for certain actors or parts that have become associated with the properties themselves is no doubt disconcerting — but is it any different from what most of us normals have to go through on a daily basis? Jobs come and go, people are cut or underpaid regardless of how integral their work is or how ingrained the association is between the worker and the work all the time. Often, huge personal sacrifices must be made in the name of opportunity and the like — that’s just 2013. Is Marvel’s profit share skewed and seemingly unfair? Yeah, sure, okay. But while for Hollywood this all is quite Hunger Games-esque, for most people reading this, the first thought is ultimately: jeez, rich people problems.

Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes

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